Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft were a wealthy couple, who entertained often in the midst of an impressive art collection including fine examples of old master paintings, Chinese porcelains, and rock crystals (Brockwell). The majority of their wealth came from Mrs. Taft, Anna Sinton. She was a pig iron heiress who inherited the considerable sum of $20 million dollars. Mr. Taft was a prominent public figure, who came from a distinguished family. He was a professional lawyer and politician before becoming an editor of several newspapers in Cincinnati, Ohio. Between 1914 and 1916, he owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team. His half-brother was William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States.
Art collecting was a shared passion of Mr. and Mrs. Taft, who first started acquiring paintings together on a trip to New York in 1902 (Brockwell, x–xi). The beginnings of their art acquisitions are recounted in the 1920 catalog of the Tafts’ paintings collection, which at the time contained ninety-five works, written by Maurice Brockwell (see illustration). Their collection of paintings focused on old master landscapes and portraiture by Dutch, French, and English artists (Brockwell, 221–3, see illustration). Eventually, the Taft Museum of Art opened in 1932 in the former mansion of the museum’s founders (see illustration). It houses 690 artworks bequeathed by the Tafts in 1927 to the people of Cincinnati.
The Tafts’ New York City art dealer, Scott & Fowles, Co., held three exhibitions in 1909, 1913, and 1914 of Dutch and English paintings that included works on loan from their collection. While the first exhibition was composed solely of works from the Taft collection, the subsequent two exhibitions included loans from their collection as well as from several other private collections. The common theme of the two later exhibitions was paintings that had once been handled by Scott & Fowles (see illustration).
The corresponding catalogs for the loan exhibitions have been digitized as part of the Documenting the Gilded Age project (see illustrations). They have a similar structure, listing the paintings exhibited and, to some extent, information about the provenances of the works shown. For example, the Tafts’ Portrait of a Young Man Rising from his Chair by Rembrandt is listed in the 1909 and 1914 Scott & Fowles exhibition catalogs as being previously in the Pourtales Gorgier Collection, Paris, France. This provenance is confirmed in the 1865 auction catalog for the Comte de Pourtalès Gorgier collection sale (Me. Laneuville, fils, lot 181, see illustration). Contemporary collectors to the Tafts also purchased works that passed through the Gorgier collection. A case in point is Henry Clay Frick, an active art collector in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who purchased a portrait of Lodovico Capponi by Agnolo Bronzino in 1915. This painting was sold in the 1865 Gorgier sale alongside the Tafts’ Rembrandt (Me. Laneuville, fils, lot 22).
Brockwell, Maurice Walter. A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles P. Taft at Cincinati, Ohio. New York: Private printing, 1920. Print.
Me. Laneuville, fils. Tableaux et dessins, anciens et modernes. Paris: Me. Laneuville, fils, 1865. Print.